With civil forfeiture, law enforcement seizes property involved in a crime. This can include a car, cash, or even real estate. These laws were created to help law enforcement bring down large criminal enterprises by depriving them of their property. But over the decades, law enforcement has continued to seize property from even small-time offenders. And those who aren’t even convicted of a crime might lose their money or other property.
At Tad Nelson & Associates, we always keep an eye on civil forfeiture after our clients are arrested. We will do what’s in our power to help you get your property back.
When Can Police Seize Assets?
Police can seize property used in the commission of a crime or that are illegal fruits of the crime. The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Chapter 59, identifies the following crimes as authorizing civil forfeiture:
- Criminal trespass
- Drug offenses
- Certain felony DWI
- Evading arrest
- Identity theft
- Money laundering
- Weapons charges
- Any first- or second-degree felony
Many people are surprised to learn that they don’t need to be convicted before the police can take their property. Unfortunately, the law incentivizes police to be aggressive, since they can keep a large percentage of the proceeds.
Can You Get Your Property Back?
Although the police can seize property, they can’t keep it without bringing a civil action. Typically, this consists of a lawsuit in court naming the property as the defendant. You will get a copy of the petition and must file a timely answer. If you don’t, then you can definitely lose the property.
The state must show that the property was used in a crime or was the proceeds of illegal activity by a preponderance of the evidence. This is a fairly low standard—much lower than proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In fact, the state only needs to prove that the assets represent contraband, not that you are guilty of a crime.
Certain defenses are available. For example, we might claim that you are an innocent owner who did not know that the property was involved in a crime. If the criminal charges get dropped, we can raise that fact as well.
We might also be able to get your property back while the civil forfeiture action is pending in court. Usually, this requires posting a bond, which we can help our clients obtain. This step might be necessary if, for example, the police seize your car which you need to drive to work.
Speak with Tad Nelson Today
Anyone whose property has been seized has important rights which they should be aware of. At Tad Nelson & Associates, our Galveston criminal defense attorney can review the facts to determine whether you should request your property back. Don’t expect the Galveston police force to simply hand it back to you without a fight.
We can file all legal pleadings and represent you in court to improve your odds, as well as defend you in any underlying criminal matter. Please contact us today to learn more.